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Internal and external plot lines apply here at the long-form. Single plot lines go to the short story entrance on the side.
Anything longer than a short story should have multiple plot lines woven together, and even the best short stories have more than one thing happening. The most obvious is an internal emotional journey of the main character, such as coming-of-age, and the external situation needing resolution, for example a killer needing to be found in a mystery. Outside of the internal and external (emotional and action) plot lines, most stories include multiple relationship interactions including family and romance.
Adding additional story lines is easy. Keeping them all advancing and interacting with equal tension is not.
This is where the plotter has the advantage over the pantser. An outline indicates where beats happen, the need to circle back and concentrate on the mystery and allow the romance to take the back burner in the science fiction thriller. A pantser after completing the book often needs to find all the stray plot lines and trim them or weave them in to the story cloth.
One thing you should not do is concentrate on only one part of the story until running out of steam then switching to the next plot. Maybe during the rough draft, just so all the information is on the page. You can’t rewrite until the writing is done. But after the initial writing is finished, the internal and external and relationship plot lines should be integrated. A reader shouldn’t look at a scene and say “this scene was written to advance the emotional growth plot line”.
The only thing a reader should know is they need to read the scene so they can move to the next scene because everything is woven so tightly together the story pulls them from the beginning to the end.
WRITING EXERCISE: For your present work-in-progress (WIP), define all the plot lines occurring.
MY EXAMPLE: In Honestly, the following plot lines are occurring:
1. Internal – Kassandra’s acceptance and adjustment after her breakup. In particular, but not limited to, her sense of self-worth and worth of being loved.
2. Relational – Kassandra’s relationship with her son and their relationship with her ex; adjusting to the new dynamic.
3. Internal (indirect) – Troy’s ability to reveal his physical vulnerability to others.
4. Relational – Development of Troy’s and Kassandra’s relationship, revealing the past and figuring out the future.
5. External – Kassandra’s job situation and balancing her needs of being a parent against the need for income.
6. External – Troy’s physical therapy and injury recovery requirements, his ability to accept them, and the ongoing impacts medically to his life.
7. External (indirect) – Troy’s ongoing job with the military.
Not every plotline in Honestly is fully developed, nor is every plotline directly visible to the reader. Number seven, Troy military job, may have impact in future stories within the universe they come from. Kassandra originally appeared in Light it Up, part of the Atlantis Warden urban fantasy universe.